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5 things you should learn from GOV.UK about creating a web app

Jun 2018

When it comes to the principles behind creating any of our digital products, the Bit Zesty team follows many of the practices set out by the UK Government’s Digital Service Standard – a set of eighteen criteria for ensuring that all government departments create streamlined, easy-to-use digital services for GOV.UK.

Developed for the UK Government by the best in the digital industry, these standards are an exemplar for digital service suppliers worldwide. Our experience has shown us that they are just as applicable outside of government as they are within it.

In this post, we’ve selected the five main practices which you should adopt to ensure that you build an exceptional web app.

1. Design with the user in mind

Do user-research to understand what a user needs from your digital service. Focusing on how the user can most easily achieve a defined outcome will result in an intuitive and user-friendly web app.

At Bit Zesty we recently worked with SXT, a community interest company which aims to improve access to sexual health services. Our UX team conducted user-research with healthcare professionals and patients. The insights from this research lead to the creation of a tool which allows patients to discreetly notify their partners about a potential infection via an anonymous message. SXT has had great success helping clinics to achieve their government-set targets for patients’ partner notification and testing – a testament to its focus on user needs.

Though it seems obvious, it’s worth reminding yourself that for any service to be a success, it needs to be driven not just by organisational objectives but also by end-user needs.

2. Make use of open-source code

Follow the UK Government’s practice and make use of shared resources, such as open-source code, when building your web app.

At Bit Zesty we make use of open-source code libraries when developing and, whenever possible, we contribute to these code libraries too. One example of an authentication library we have used is Devise, an open-source code library (available on GitHub) which provides login functionality for web applications developed in Ruby on Rails.

Benefiting from pre-made code libraries – such as Devise – allows our developers to save time and money for our client.

Additionally, in June this year GOV.UK launched a new Design System through which its teams and individuals can propose new styles, components and patterns, as well as contribute to existing ones and see what others are working on. If suitable, adopt whatever pre-built features you can and take advantage of the collective knowledge of some of the best in the industry.

3. Evaluate with user feedback

GOV.UK’s Digital Service Standard requires all government digital services to be assessed in terms of their defined criteria. Teams must generate data from site analytics, user feedback, and usability testing to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their service – and the success and failure of the methods they use to deal with these.

Continually evaluating your service ensures that the focus always remains on how easily the end-user is achieving their desired outcome – and on how to improve this.

At Bit Zesty, our team undertook extensive usability testing during our work with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, and we continue to run regular use-surveys on the live service. Following its success in improving accessibility to the service and reducing the number of enquiries to the QAE helpline, the new service became a best practice example for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.  

4. Stay agile & iterate

Continuous evaluation of your digital service is critical, but only if you can turn these new insights into actionable improvements and measure their success.

To do this, the UK Government uses Agile methods of working. Agile working prepares their teams to rapidly iterate a new version of a service, assess its success, and work to improve it before the next iteration.

Our work with Trussell Trust, a network of UK foodbanks and care agencies, highlights the success of Agile working. We designed a digital system for their volunteers and partners to use, replacing their paper vouchers and allowing the charity to gather more effective statistics on foodbank usage.

To make sure that the system was intuitive and easy-to-use, our UX team took prototypes to foodbanks and care agencies to test with real users. User feedback revealed a need to improve the system for those with lower digital skills, and we addressed this in the next iteration.

Ultimately, Agile methods benefit your organisation as they enable you to react to changing commercial and user requirements by rapidly iterating and innovating your digital services.

5. Work in a multidisciplinary team

The UK government’s Digital Service Standard requires all digital development teams to show that they have people with the right skills to fill in roles for each project, including a product manager, user researchers, designers, developers and a service owner to oversee day-to-day decision making. While one person can have more than one role, you need to make sure that there are no gaps in the skillset of your project team.

As each stage of developing a digital product demands different skills, we have a fully-formed multidisciplinary team which allows us to seamlessly carry our projects from an idea through to a product.


To see the success of these principles in action, take a look at some of the digital services we’ve created for the UK government.

Do you need help creating or improving a digital service? Contact Matthew, our Technical Director, today on +44 207 125 0160 or drop him a line on [email protected] for a free consultation.

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